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21-23 Seidler Associates, L.L.C. v. City of Jersey City

March 16, 2007

21-23 SEIDLER ASSOCIATES, L.L.C., AND 212 WILLIAM ASSOCIATES, L.L.C., PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS/ CROSS-APPELLANTS,
v.
CITY OF JERSEY CITY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT/CROSS-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Hudson County, Docket No. C-124-04.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lefelt, P.J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Submitted January 31, 2007

Before Judges Lefelt, Parrillo and Sapp-Peterson.

Plaintiffs, 21-23 Seidler Associates, L.L.C., and 212 William Associates, L.L.C., hold tax sale certificates, respectively, for 342 Forrest Street and 134 Bostwick Street in Jersey City. Plaintiffs, in an action to quiet title, sought summary judgment invalidating Jersey City tax liens for demolition costs filed against the two properties. Plaintiffs argued that the liens were invalid because the City failed to comply with applicable statutory notice requirements. See N.J.S.A. 40:48-2.5, -2.7; N.J.S.A. 54:5-12. The chancery judge invalidated the demolition lien on the Forrest Street property for failure to provide proper notice, but refused to invalidate the demolition lien on the Bostwick property. Accordingly, the City appeals the order invalidating the Forrest Street lien, while plaintiffs appeal the order denying invalidation of the Bostwick lien. We conclude that the City failed to provide proper notice for both demolition liens, and, therefore, we affirm on the City's appeal and reverse on plaintiffs' appeal.

Plaintiffs assert that on February 17, 2004, Seidler Associates acquired, by assignment, two tax sale certificates, No. 222207 and No. 261391, against the Forrest Street property. Although the City had allegedly demolished premises at that location sometime during 2002, the demolition charges were not recorded against the property until April 22, 2004, which was approximately two months after Seidler Associates had acquired the tax sale certificates and two years after the demolition.

Plaintiffs also assert that on May 26, 2004, William Associates acquired, by assignment, a tax sale certificate No. 191577 against the Bostwick property. Although the city had demolished the premises at that location after September 1999, it allegedly failed to provide any notice of the demolition proceedings to William Associates or its predecessor-in-title.

Plaintiffs' principal, Mark S. Kasson, certified that before plaintiffs acquired the tax sale certificates for the two properties, he requested tax redemption statements from the City's tax collector's office. Kasson certified that the statements he received did not disclose the demolition liens at issue, and accordingly plaintiffs did not have notice of the liens at any time before acquisition of the certificates.

According to Kasson, with respect to the Forrest Street property, the City provided no notice of the demolition proceedings until the City recorded its demolition lien, three months after Seidler Associates had acquired the tax sale certificates and approximately two years after the demolition had occurred.

Kasson further asserted that tax sale certificate No. 222207 was originally issued to Capital Asset Research Corporation, and then assigned to "FUNB as Custodian for FUNDCO." FUNDCO was the record owner of this certificate when the demolition order was issued and when demolition occurred. Although the City attempted to serve FUNDCO with notice of the demolition order by regular and certified mail, these mailings were returned as "not deliverable." Regarding the second tax sale certificate, No. 261931, owned by Seidler Associates, the City provided no proof of any notice, or even attempted notice, to Seidler Associates' predecessor-in-interest.

With respect to the Bostwick property, a demolition order was issued on September 14, 1999, and demolition occurred between January 2000 and February 2000. The demolition costs were not filed as a lien against the Bostwick property until November 1, 2003, approximately three years after demolition occurred. The City provided no proof of any notice of the demolition proceedings that was served upon William Associates' predecessors-in-interest.

Kasson certified that on September 23, 2003, he obtained a municipal redemption statement for the Bostwick property which did not reflect any demolition lien. Thereafter, on May 26, 2004, William Associates acquired the Bostwick tax sale certificate, allegedly without knowledge of the demolition lien that had been filed approximately seven months earlier on November 1, 2003, which was less than two months after Kasson had requested the redemption statement.

The chancery judge found inadequate notice with respect to the demolition lien against the Forrest property. However, the judge upheld the lien against the Bostwick property because William Associates failed "to act with due diligence" to discover this lien, which was recorded before the tax sale certificates were assigned to William Associates.

The appeals by the City and plaintiffs present the following issues: (1) whether the chancery judge erred in granting summary judgment to Seidler Associates because plaintiffs did not have standing and summary judgment was premature, and (2) whether the court erred by invalidating only one lien and by failing to ...


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